Nizhny Novgorod Russia hosts Astana Kazakhstan in a regular-season showdown.
Nizhny Novgorod Trade Union Sports Palace (capacity 5,500), Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
5:00 PM (5:00 MSK), January 6, 2019
Face to Face
Nizhny Novgorod and Astana have played 13 times, all in the VTB United League. The Russians hold a commanding 10-3 series lead and ride a four-game winning streak into Sunday’s match-up, which includes an 89-83 victory earlier this season in Astana.
Astana has been the League’s biggest surprise this season, something Nizhny Novgorod knows a thing or two about. The Kazakh champs are enjoying their best start in club history–7-3 and 4th place in the standings. With wins already over Zenit and Lokomotiv-Kuban, the club trails only CSKA, Khimki and UNICS. Emil Rajkovic’s men have won four in a row, each by big margins: +23 vs. VEF, +19 vs. Loko, +27 vs. Kalev and +17 vs. Avtodor.
Nizhny has not been at the same level this season, ranking 9th with a 4-6 record. But Zoran Lukic’s squad has been forced to overcome numerous injuries and with the team’s health improving, the results on the court have also picked up. Recent victories vs. Khimki and PARMA (in 2OT) have the Russians riding serious momentum.
The battle for the playoffs is only getting started and both Nizhny and Astana are determined to finish in the top-8, making Sunday’s game huge for both team’s chances.
Last season, Astana won three in a row under new head coach Mikhail Karpenko and nearly snatched a fourth-straight victory in Nizhny Novgorod. The Kazakhs led by five points with 20 seconds to go, but the shocking finish to the contest ended up shaping both teams’ seasons.
Nizhny Novgorod put together a miracle comeback, knocking down two 3-pointers. The Kazakh club never recovered from the defeat, missing the postseason, whereas Nizhny went on to record a 7th-place finish. Artem Komolov’s miracle shot ended up being one of the most memorable moments of the season.
Will the New Year’s break help Nizhny Novgorod?
Astana has won its last four games in the VTB League by an average of 21.5 points. The issue is that the Yellow and Blue last played on December 23, which may have thrown the League’s hottest team out of sync.
Nizhny picked up a 72-71 win over Samara in the Russian Cup quarterfinals on December 28. But, more importantly, Nizhny Novgorod had more than a week to recuperate after a busy first half of the season that featured action in three different competitions and a rash of injuries.
Nizhny forward Rod Odom played at Astana during the 2016-17 season. He averaged 9.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in Kazakhstan.
Astana leader Anthony Clemmons was named the December MVP. The American with Kazakh citizenship more than deserved the award. He averaged 22.0 points (45% from beyond the arc), 7.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and a 22.7 efficiency rating in the final month of 2018. The club expects the guard to continue playing at the same level in 2019.